The Classics Club – which is really the place that I made my first blogging friends, I think – is celebrating its tenth anniversary at the moment. The mods have posed ten excellent questions for any member who wants to answer them – and since I am currently whiling away the minutes before I finally leave for Peru, I thought I’d have a crack at them.
- When did you join the Classics Club?
Honestly, I can’t remember – I think some time in 2014, when I first started this blog. Some of my old reviews are still active on this site, but my original list has been lost to the sands of time. My second list, though, became active in September 2020.
- What is the best classic book you’ve read for the club so far? Why?
This was a hard question – best can mean so many things – but I think perhaps Picnic at Hanging Rock. There are other contenders, but they are all books that I expected to love (Can You Forgive Her?, A View of the Harbour, In a Lonely Place). I expected to like Picnic at Hanging Rock, but I didn’t expect to love it as much as I did – and with its sinister tone and underlying horror, it’s a lot further outside my comfort zone than I realised when I first picked it up. I think the fact that it has stuck with me so much despite being the type of thing I so rarely read is a testament to how powerful it is.
- What is the first classic you ever read?
Hmmm. I was thinking about this the other day after I read FictionFan’s answers, and it’s a tough one – because how do you define “read” and also “classic”? I have early memories of my dad reading us The Just So Stories when I was very small – unusually, as he was more likely to make up stories for us than read other people’s. But, depending on your definition of classic, it was either Winnie-the-Pooh (the first book I can remember reading independently), or, if that doesn’t count, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. (I actually tried to read The Magician’s Nephew first, when I was five or six, but flew into a complete panic when Polly disappeared. My very wise mum suggested that we put Narnia to the side for a couple of years, and then started me off with The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe instead).
- Which classic book inspired you the most?
Again, it kind of depends on what you mean by inspired – but, other than journal entries, the first things I ever wrote were short, bad stories set in Middle Earth – and these allowed me friendship and connection with other internet nerds during an otherwise fairly lonely adolescence. I still think that Tolkien is one of the authors whose writing I most admire. Very often when I am reading a book that I’m loving, bits of it will remind me of The Lord of the Rings, even in very different genres or styles. So I suppose LOTR had the single biggest impact, both on forming my reading taste now, and on making me first want to write.
- What is the most challenging one you’ve ever read, or tried to read?
I suppose that technically the most honest answer to this would be one of the myriad classics I have abandoned, like War and Peace or Snow Crash by Neal Stevenson. But there are too many contenders for “hardest abandoned book”, so I’ll go with “hardest completed book” instead and pick Les Miserables. I love that book with a passion – it contains some of my favourite individual moments in books – but Hugo’s editor was clearly taking the month off when he got the manuscript. EDIT.
- Favourite movie adaptation of a classic? Least favourite?
Favourite is about a fifty-way tie! I love the film adaptation of The Remains of the Day, which I think is a great example of how an adaptation can change key elements of a story and still remain faithful to the themes. Least favourite? It would probably be unsporting for me to pick the new Persuasion adaptation merely on the grounds of the appalling trailer, a few clips, and the fact that in interviews the writer basically admits that she picked Persuasion because she thinks it’s boring. So I will pick the Sarah Phelps adaptation of Christie’s The ABC Murders. Phelps is another writer who gleefully admits in interviews that she hasn’t read most of Christie’s oeuvre, just the ones she was asked to adapt – and then goes on to say things like “if Christie was writing now, she would include sex and drugs!” Except, um, Christie did include those things. Often, but not all the time, because she was actually a good writer who didn’t need to rely on shock value and Making the Most Unpleasant Choice Possible. Which you would know if you’d picked up her books…
- Which classics character most reminds you of yourself?
This changes over time – though when I was reading it, I have to confess that slightly pious, pretentious, naive Dorothea Brooke from Middlemarch hit uncomfortably close to the bone. I was twenty when I read that – it became one of my forever-favourites. I do sometimes wonder what I would have made of it if I hadn’t felt like I was being politely eviscerated by George Eliot the whole time…
- Has there been a classic title you expected to dislike and ended up loving? Respecting? Appreciating?
I don’t really tend to read books I’m not expecting to enjoy, although I respect everyone who can push themselves out of their comfort zone like that. I’ll go with The Expendable Man by Dorothy B Hughes, because I had absolutely no idea what to expect from that. I went in completely blind, and ended up absolutely loving it.
- Classic/s you are DEFINITELY GOING TO MAKE HAPPEN next year?
Dr Zhivago is looking at me from my shelf… I like to have a big thick classic to read over the winter months, so maybe it’s time for this one?
- Favourite memory with a classic and/or your favourite memory with The Classics Club?
When I was at university, I was reading Les Miserables. Slowly, and with a lot of complaining about the randomn tangents (as noted above). One of my housemates, who ended up becoming a very good friend, was reading the first of the Game of Thrones books at the same time. We spent many, many evenings reading into the early hours, each of us sprawled over in the living room of our student house: eating chocolate; grumbling about the verbosity of our respective authors; reading out choice passages to one another and drinking tea and laughing at things that were unintentionally funny. It was one of the most companionable reading experiences I have ever had.
…And that’s me checking out for the next two and a bit weeks! Have a lovely fortnight – I’ll be back (with pictures) soon!